The NFL has a copy of a "ledger" that was kept detailing weekly earnings for players in the New Orleans Saints bounty system, according to two sources with knowledge of the investigation.
The ledger, which shows both money earned for "cart-offs" and "whacks" and deducted for "mental errors," also points to the fact that players were told on a week-by-week basis of their performance.
According to sources, the NFL showed portions of the ledger during meetings with some of those who have been investigated in the scandal.
"The players clearly knew what was going each week with the payments," a source told Yahoo! Sports. In fact, multiple sources admitted that Saints defensive players would regularly encourage teammates to put money earned from the bounty system back into the pool. It's unclear if that was to increase the potential winnings or eventually use the money for some other purpose.
Regardless of whether the money was paid out or not, the mere implication of a cash payment for such plays is considered a violation of league rules.
NFL Players Association spokesman George Atallah said via text message that the league "made mention" of the ledger in a meeting with the union in April, but that the NFLPA had not seen the ledger yet.
As a result, Atallah called into question the use of the ledger as "evidence."
"I guess it either qualifies as evidence, which means fair due process was violated because [the] players didn't get to see it before they were punished or it is not hard evidence because they didn't get to see it and cross examine the validity of that piece of evidence," Atallah wrote.
This news comes in the aftermath of a declaration Friday by filmmaker Sean Pamphilon that he was encouraged by former New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita to release an audio recording of former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, first obtained by Yahoo! Sports, in which Williams exhorts players to hurt members of the San Francisco 49ers in a playoff game last season.
Implicit within Pamphilon's 10,000-word description of the circumstances is that players such as Fujita and New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees and the NFL Players Association were attempting to push more of the blame for the bounty scandal onto Williams and the coaching staff.
Fujita, who did not immediately return a text seeking comment, is one of four players who has been suspended for his participation in the bounty scandal.
The ledger could prove to be extremely damning to the players' cause. Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma has filed a defamation lawsuit against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in federal court in Louisiana, claiming he never paid nor received money for bounties.
Vilma's claim may ultimately be a matter of semantics.
While the ledger doesn't necessarily prove that there was an actual transaction, it is potentially strong evidence that such a system existed. In the ledger, payments of $1,000 for cart-offs (a hit that resulted in a player being helped off the field), $400 for whacks (hard hits) and $100 deductions for mental errors were kept track of for each player.
Two specific entries for the 2009 season were shown during one meeting. In a game against the New York Giants on Oct. 18, there was a $1,000 bounty awarded for one cart-off. In a game against the Carolina Panthers on Nov. 8, 2009, there were three $1,000 awards. (A source initially said the three $1,000 awards were given in Buffalo on Sept. 27, 2009, but that source and another source later corrected that report.)
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There was also a notation that after one game an opposing player who had been carted off was placed on injured reserve. The notation of the player on IR included an exclamation mark.
"The players knew what their actions were for," the source said.
In addition, Pamphilon's accusation against Fujita, who is a player representative to the NFLPA, potentially brings up a contradiction over the defense by the players, who have been arguing that the bounty system didn't exist. Aside from the existence of the ledger, the effort by the players to push the blame for the system onto Williams by having Pamphilon release the audio tape is a tacit admission that the bounty system existed.
Or as one source said: "You can't have it both ways. You can't argue it didn't happen and then argue somebody else forced you to do it."
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